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THRIVE: Effectively Managing Yourself

By Paul A. Douglas, Ph.D. Founder & CEO, P.A. Douglas & Associates Inc.

“It is not enough to have great qualities; we should also have the management of them.”

                                                                                                                                       -La Rochefoucauld

Time management, stress management, and relationship management, are all misnomers. We can no more manage time, stress or conflict than we can manage the tides or seasons or the course of our beautiful planet hurtling through space.

The best we can do is manage ourselves in relation- ship to those things. At times, this self-management may take the form of influencing others to act, at times it might involve technological change, at other times it may be adaptation, and sometimes it even takes the form of acceptance.

Self-management demands self-knowledge

Surprisingly, very few people know who they are and really understand how their behaviors are perceived by others. Before we can modify your own behaviors to stimulate improved results with others, we must know who we are. Managing self comes before managing others.

Managing Self, in Our Relationships with Others

Only when we have a greater appreciation of who we are, can we turn our attention to developing a clearer understanding of who the other key actors in our life are.

It has long been said that birds of a feather flock together. In nature, birds of a single species do, in fact, form flocks. Ornithologists will tell you that this is a “safety in numbers” tactic to reduce their risk of predation. Yet you will never see even a single barn swallow hanging with a robin or a seagull spending time with a wren. This same behavior would seem to apply to every other species on earth, including man.

We seek out others who are similar to ourselves. Professionals tend to socialize with other professionals, cops hang out with other cops, and actors associate largely with other actors. It has been my personal observation, having worked with close to 100,000 executives, managers, and administrative professionals at my public seminars over the past four decades, that this flocking behavior extends beyond the familiar list of demographics. People not only flock to those who have a similar social status, age, race, occupation, and so on but also to those who have similar social or behavioral style. Undoubtedly, we tend to establish higher levels of rapport with those who demonstrate similar personality characteristics as ourselves.

But this suggests too, that we are missing out on many opportunities for personal growth and organizational success by choosing not to leave our comfort zone to move into another’s gray area.

I believe it has never been so important to improve your interpersonal effectiveness. In today’s demanding organizational environment, it is no longer how smart you are or how much education you have, or even how well you can do the job from a purely technical perspective, but increasingly, you are being judged by how well you can manage your interactions and relationships with other people.

Managing Self in Relationship to Time

Clearly, one of the greatest sources of stress in many of our lives is the lack or at least the perceived lack of time. Many people describe it as simply too many tasks and activities and too little time in which to do them. In response, many time-management “experts” provide a litany of tools for efficiency, techniques for packing all those tasks into less and less time—techniques that fail to give more than a passing mention of the significance of the personality of individual style. I feel this is one of the greatest weaknesses found in most traditional time and project management programs. They offer a “one size fits all” system or approach to a multifaceted and complex subject, ignoring the critical role that personal and professional style play in organizational effectiveness. As a result, they fail to provide practical and realistic solutions that might reasonably be implemented by disparate personality styles.

Managing Self with Regard to Stress

When teaching a seminar on stress management, 
I occasionally hold a glass of water, my arm out- stretched in front of me, and ask the group to tell me how much the glass weighs. I will hear answers such as two pounds, eight ounces, four kilograms, and
 so forth. Then, I ask the group, “What if I hold the glass of water for an hour—then how much does it weigh?”. The responses are the same, but everyone knows that the glass will feel heavier. And what if I hold it out for a day? If I hold that glass of water for an hour, my arm is going to hurt, and I will 
probably feel sore for days. If I hold it out for an entire day, I will probably need an ambulance.

This is, of course, a metaphor for stress. As long as we put the glass down once in a while, the weight will never become a problem. Many of us have been holding the glass out in front of us for too long, and it seems as if people just keep pouring more water into it. The majority of people feel that there is too much stress in their lives. More and more, I hear people complaining that stress is becoming overwhelming and is robbing them of basic satisfaction and peace of mind. So endemic is stress that we call it “the disease of the twenty-first century”.

If you feel that there is more stress in your life today than there was five, ten or twenty years ago, it’s not your imagination. Current research shows that there is. Research conducted by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and involving 6,300 people, offers proof that there is more stress in people’s lives today than there was two decades ago. The data showed that stress has increased 18% for women and 24% for men. Increasingly we have less time to think, reflect, or relax.

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